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This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of May 13, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
Call ‘em crazy. Call it the most important thing Congress could do. The House of Representatives will make another run at repealing Obamacare this week. Just like last time—and the time before that—the repeal vote is for show.
But it’s not all for show.
Republicans hope that, by showing their commitment to repeal, they can garner majorities in coming Congresses and win the presidency in 2016 so they can actually repeal the pair of laws that constitute Obamacare.
Obamacare was actually two laws. First, there was Public Law 111-148, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Then there was Public Law 111-152, The Reconciliation Act of 2010, which made further key changes to existing law. (Reconciliation bills don’t need 60 votes to reach debate on final passage in the Senate, so it was a way of squeaking through provisions that didn’t have super-majority support.)
The debate might have more energy because of a recent study in Oregon comparing two random groups of Medicaid applicants, one of which was allowed into the program and one of which was not. The group in Medicaid enjoyed some benefits, such as lower rates of depression, but there weren’t statistically significant effects on blood pressure or cholesterol. These mild benefits came at a cost of $1200 in medical costs annually, or an increase of about 35 percent in spending per patient.
So maybe insurance-supported, buffet-style health care provides meager results at great cost. Maybe health insurance programs, public and private, should be oriented toward covering catastrophic illness and injury.
Maybe the debate this week will get to that. More likely, it will be all about the political posturing that Republicans and Democrats must to both do to try and win future elections and solidify their positions.
Here is the current vote on H.R. 45, to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and health care-related provisions in the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of May 6, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
Republicans feel they’ve had some success using the statutory debt limit as leverage with Senate Democrats and President Obama, and they plan to use that leverage this summer.
Federal law caps the national debt, and when it comes time to raise it, Republicans can drag their feet until they get what they want. Unlike spending bills, which the beneficiaries of government spending want to see passed, raising the debt ceiling isn’t an acute interest of anyone.
In the Budget Control Act, Republicans got some spending cuts in exchange for a debt limit increase. Boy, that process was messy, ending as it did with sequestration—across the board cuts in spending—rather than careful, thought-out cuts.
But Republicans see risks in taking the federal government to the edge of default—political risk and real risk. (Which one matters more?) There’s a risk that the government could default—or at least that people think it will—and blame Republicans for their brinksmanship.
So the next act in the budget battle is to make the debt ceiling more comfortable to bump against.
H.R. 807, the Full Faith and Credit Act, would allow the government to continue borrowing after it reaches the debt limit, but only to make debt payments and to write Social Security checks. The government would no longer be at risk of going into default, but it would stop paying government contractors, federal workers, Medicare providers, and lots of other recipients of government funds.
The bill was introduced by California Republican Tom McClintock. Chances are you really like or really hate this bill. It’s not one to bring people to the middle.
So what’s your thinking? Should the government hold the line on increasing debt or relax and let the debt continue to increase? Is this a clever tactic or the worst thing you’ve ever heard?
Here’s what people currently think about H.R. 807, the Full Faith and Credit Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article about the bill.
Last weekend, we reported how Congress had failed to pass identical versions of the same bill in the House and Senate, meaning it couldn’t be signed into law. Now they’ve fixed the problem … by lying.
S. 853 and H.R. 1765 are both called the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013. They allow the Federal Aviation Administration to move money around so that it doesn’t have to furlough air traffic controllers under the across-the-board budget cuts produced by sequestration.
Late last week, the House and Senate each passed their bills, and the Senate agreed to automatically pass a bill “identical” to the one they had passed when the House version arrived. Except, before the House version arrived, its sponsor amended it, changing the word “account” to “accounts” in one place. (The FAA has to move money from multiple appropriations accounts in order to pay air traffic controllers, not just one.) That meant that the bills weren’t identical and couldn’t be sent to the president for his signature.
Well, the fix is in. And we mean “fix” in the worst possible way. Rather than pass a bill identical to the House bill, the Senate lied to itself to get the bill through the process. And the bill is now what can only be called a grammatical embarrassment.
During a one-minute session on Tuesday, the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to retrieve the bill it passed from the House “in order for the Secretary of the Senate to make corrections in the engrossment of this bill.” Engrossment—that’s when the Secretary of the Senate produces the official copy to send to the House or the president.
The thing is, there were no corrections to make. The Secretary had engrossed the bill correctly. It’s just that the Senate had passed a bill with “account” in it and the House had passed a bill with “accounts” in it.
But I guess if you’re the Secretary of the Senate, you’re going to take the fall sometimes. The House and Senate couldn’t take the time to do things right, and they decided that it’s the Secretary’s fault.
But that’s not all. With this “error” cleared up, a shiny new one has emerged. When the House and Senate changing the word “account” to “accounts” in one place, it forgot to do so the second place in the same sentence!
The idea is to allow the FAA to use money from multiple Treasury accounts to fund air traffic controllers. Here’s a shortened version of what the convoluted sentence says in the final version of the bill:
Notwithstanding [other laws and policies], the Secretary of Transportation may transfer during fiscal year 2013 [up to $253,000,000] to the appropriations accounts providing for the operations of the Federal Aviation Administration, for any activity or activities funded by that account, from [airport grants-in-aid] or any other program or account of the Federal Aviation Administration.
We’ve added italics to show you the two instances of “account/s” that don’t match up. The second one is still singular, referring back to the first one, which is plural.
But what the heck. When Congress is moving only a quarter-billion dollars around, there isn’t much reason to take time to get it right.
Maybe President Obama can straighten this out. He, after all, promised as a candidate for president in 2008 that there would be a five-day public review of all bills sent him by Congress.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com email newsletter for the week of April 29, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
The FAA has suspended all employee furloughs, and they say things will be back to normal soon. This is in anticipation of the president signing legislation Congress passed to lift the sequester as to the FAA.
But we don’t think he can sign the bill, because we don’t think Congress passed it.
There is outrage in some quarters about the bill or bills “passed” last week to side-step sequestration‘s effects on the Federal Aviation Administration. Under the threat of flight delays, the bills allow the Department of Transportation to move funds around and unclog things at FAA.
But Congress acted in such haste that it may not have actually passed identical legislation in both houses.
This gets complicated fast, so stow your carry-ons, restore your seat to its upright position, and buckle your seat belt.
The Constitution says, “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.” The use of the singular means there can’t be two pretty similar bills. One bill—the exact same—per law.
So what happened with the FAA de-sequester?
First, on Thursday, the Senate passed S. 853, the Reducing Flight Delays Act of 2013, which had been introduced earlier that day. You can view the text of Senate-passed bill on page S3069 of Thursday’s Congressional Record, or in text or PDF on the Government Printing Office site. The text matters.
Apparently, someone determined that the Senate bill was a revenue measure, which must originate in the House. (This is according to The Hill.) I don’t think it is (take a look at the complicated rules in this area if you want).
Whatever the case, after passing the bill Thursday, the Senate agreed that a bill coming from the House that was identical to the Senate-passed bill would be automatically passed by the Senate.
Here’s the language of the Senate unanimous consent request. The text matters again, because it uses the word “ïdentical”:
Mr. REID. Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that if the Senate receives a bill from the House and the text of that bill is identical to S. 853, the bill then be considered read three times and passed and the motion to re-consider be considered made and laid upon the table.
So when on Friday the House passed H.R. 1765, that was supposed to wrap things up. It would go to the Senate for automatic passage followed by a trip down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House for the president’s signature.
But at about the same time as the Hill story was reporting that the bill was greased to be sent to the president, something else was going on. Exactly why it happened, I can only guess, but Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA), the sponsor or H.R. 1765, came to the House floor, where he sought and received unanimous consent to change the language of that House-passed bill.
“Mr. Speaker,” he said, “I ask unanimous consent that in the engrossment of H.R. 1765, the Clerk strike ‘account’ on page 2, line 14, and insert ‘accounts.’” This is done once in a while in the House to fix errors, telling the clerk to do it before sending it on to the Senate or president.
The word “account” appears three times in the bill. It’s hard to know which of the three instances of “account” he was referring to, but the version of the bill published by the House Rules Committee on Friday morning has “account” on page 2, line 14.
“Account” refers to appropriations accounts—they’re basically bank accounts at the Treasury Department. There are hundreds of them, and each one is used for different purposes at different agencies.
The bill originally passed by the House referred to a single appropriations account that funds the FAA, but there are probably more than one. Perhaps folks in the House realized that they have to give the Transportation Department authority to move funds from any number of accounts or else the bill wasn’t going to work. Thus, the change from “account” to “accounts.”
Still, things are strange. If I’m right about the first instance of “account” at line 14 being changed, that makes the sentence non-grammatical. The second instance of “account,” in that same sentence, have been changed, too. The third time “account” appears in the bill is in a place where it doesn’t matter whether it’s singular or plural because it’s preceded by the indefinite article “any.”
Whatever the case, the word “accounts” (plural) doesn’t appear anywhere in the Senate-passed bill.
That means that the House did not send an identical version of the Senate-passed bill. And that means that the unanimous consent agreement in the Senate to pass an identical bill does not apply.
H.R. 1765 did not pass the Senate.
Now, that’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo and dancing on the head of a pin. But it’s also the legislative process of our national government. People who respect it and believe it deserves respect take it seriously. People who take our government and the rule of law seriously take seriously the constitutional rule that the House and Senate must pass identical bills. They take seriously the exact terms of unanimous consent agreements in the Senate and the House.
Can Congress and the president agree that they have passed a law just because they meant to, even if they didn’t? Or do they have to follow the regular procedures to the very last letter, even if there’s an extra letter “s”?
It’s a good thing to discuss while the bill gets the five days of online public review that President Obama promised when he campaigned for president. We expect the bill will soon show up on Whitehouse.gov’s “Pending Legislation” page, at which time it will have its five days of Sunlight Before Signing.
This is the WashingtonWatch.com weekly email newsletter for the week of April 22, 2013. Subscribe (free!) here.
Could there be a more obscurely named bill?
Scheduled for debate in the Senate this week, S. 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act, is a bill to permit states to levy taxes on Internet sales—y’know, your purchases on Amazon, eBay, fridgefilters.com, and so on. (Yes, there is a site dedicated to filters for your refrigerator.)
Many of these transactions aren’t currently taxed because they cross state lines. Your state can’t require someone outside the state to collect tax from you or pay a tax into your state. So out-of-state sellers have a leg up on in-state sellers, who do have to pay sales tax.
Technically, you’re likely supposed to pay a use tax on the things you buy from out of state, but do you?
So the bill, sponsored by Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), would allow states to tax sellers in other states.
(Though it’s chief sponsor is a Republican, most of its support comes from Democrats. Take a look at the sponsor list on the page for the bill.)
Interstate taxation of this kind means fairness between in-state retailers and out-of-state retailers—both would have to pay sales taxes to your state. But it also means a tax increase for you. More of your online purchases would include sales taxes.
So, do you want to pay more taxes in the name of fairness of this kind? That should determine where you come down on the bill. That’s what the Marketplace Fairness is all about: taxes.
Here is the current vote on S. 743, the Marketplace Fairness Act. Click to vote, comment, learn more, or edit the wiki article on the bill.